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AB-1255 Fire prevention: fire risk reduction guidance: local assistance grants.(2021-2022)

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Date Published: 04/06/2021 09:00 PM
AB1255:v98#DOCUMENT

Amended  IN  Assembly  April 06, 2021

CALIFORNIA LEGISLATURE— 2021–2022 REGULAR SESSION

Assembly Bill
No. 1255


Introduced by Assembly Member Bloom

February 19, 2021


An act to amend Section 4124.5 of, and to add Section 4123.9 to to, the Public Resources Code, relating to fire prevention.


LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL'S DIGEST


AB 1255, as amended, Bloom. Fire prevention: Department of Forestry and Fire Protection: grant programs. fire risk reduction guidance: local assistance grants.
Existing law requires the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to establish a local assistance grant program for fire prevention activities. Existing law defines “fire prevention activities” for these purposes to mean those lawful activities that reduce the risk of wildfire in California, as provided. Existing law allows the department to consider whether a proposed project is complementary to other fire prevention or forest health activities when awarding local assistance grants. Existing law, until January 1, 2024, allows the Director of Forestry and Fire Protection to authorize advance payments, as specified, from grants.

This bill would require the department, in coordination with the Secretary of the Natural Resources Agency, to facilitate regional, habitat-specific, and area-specific approaches to fire risk reduction, prevention, and restoration of projects that improve community safety, protect sites and structures, restore burned habitat, reduce catastrophic wildfires, and protect natural resources. The bill would require the department to develop policies, funding programs for which the funding shall be contingent upon subsequent appropriation in the annual Budget Act or a similar statute for this purpose, and relevant program guidelines that promote specified objectives. The bill would require various state entities, as specified, to establish grant programs, for which funding shall be contingent upon subsequent appropriation, to fulfill the specified objectives.

This bill would require the Natural Resources Agency, on or before July 1, 2023, and in collaboration with specified state agencies and in consultation with certain other state agencies, to develop a guidance document that describes goals, approaches, opportunities, and best practices in each region of the state for ecologically appropriate, habitat-specific fire risk reduction. The bill would require the guidance document to be developed through a public process, including region-specific public workshops hosted by the agency, and would require the agency to post the document on its internet website. The bill would require state entities to incorporate guidance from the document into their funding programs and would require the department to implement the guidance document by establishing interagency agreements and coordinating with regional entities to identify and implement activities and projects in regions. The bill would prohibit funding for programs described in the guidance document approved by the state before July 1, 2022, from being delayed or contingent upon the development of the guidance document.
This bill would require the department to consult with a county, as specified, before awarding a local assistance grant within the county, to ensure the county’s local fire prevention priorities are considered and prioritized. The bill would allow the director to authorize advance payments from grants, as specified, indefinitely.
Vote: MAJORITY   Appropriation: NO   Fiscal Committee: YES   Local Program: NO  

The people of the State of California do enact as follows:


SECTION 1.

 Section 4123.9 is added to the Public Resources Code, to read:
4123.9.

(a)The department, in coordination with the Secretary of the Natural Resources Agency, shall facilitate regional, habitat-specific, and area-specific approaches to fire risk reduction, prevention, and restoration projects that improve community safety, protect sites and structures, restore burned habitat, reduce catastrophic wildfires, and protect natural resources.

(b)The department shall develop policies, funding programs for which the funding shall be contingent upon subsequent appropriation in the annual Budget Act or a similar statute for this purpose, and relevant program guidelines that promote all of the following:

(1)The application of regional, habitat-specific, and area-specific approaches to fire prevention, restoration, and planning.

(2)Relevant planning, research, and capacity-building.

(3)Improved community safety, protection of sites and structures, restoration of burned habitat, reduction of catastrophic wildfires, and protection of natural resources.

(4)Equitable distribution of funds throughout the state and different habitat types.

(5)Legislative, stakeholder, and community engagement and oversight in program development. This engagement and oversight may take the form of an appointed advisory council to provide advice on funding priorities and facilitate more effective coordination with regional, local, and tribal governments and stakeholders.

(c)The following state entities shall establish grant programs, for which funding shall be contingent upon subsequent appropriation in the annual Budget Act or a similar statute for this purpose, to fulfill the objectives identified in subdivision (b):

(1)The department for fire prevention, forest health, and fire suppression activities in forest lands. Priority shall be given to counties with an average housing unit density of 200 or greater per square mile of nonfederal land area.

(2)The department for fire prevention, fire suppression, greening, and forestry activities in urban communities.

(3)The Department of Conservation for the implementation of the Regional Forest and Fire Capacity program.

(4)Each state conservancy for fire risk reduction, prevention, and restoration, including research and planning, vegetation management, development of defensible space, community monitoring and response programs, safety patrols, and technologies, including dedicated funding for the protection of each of the following:

(A)Predominantly coastal sage and chaparral habitat that has experienced wildfires, for activities that restore habitat through recolonization with native vegetation or through removal of exotics, or create defensible space around structures.

(B)Conifer, mixed conifer, and oak woodland habitat that have and continue to experience repetitive, catastrophic wildfires in natural landscapes and the wildland urban interface.

(5)(A)Each state conservancy and the Wildlife Conservation Board for the protection, restoration, and improvement of forests and watersheds, including conifers, oak woodlands, forests, shrublands, and watersheds vulnerable to repetitive, catastrophic wildfires in the wildland urban interface, to ensure the long-term ecological health of these natural systems.

(B)Dedicated funding shall be made available for the acquisition or transfer of forest and watershed land to facilitate long-term land management and protection of that land to reduce fire risk or restore postfire.

(6)(A)The State Coastal Conservancy for the protection and restoration of watersheds vulnerable to or impacted by wildfires to support water supply and water quality for fish, wildlife, and people.

(B)Dedicated funding shall be made available for aquatic restoration to directly benefit riparian habitat for imperiled salmonids.

(7)(A)The Department of Parks and Recreation for projects pursuant to this section. Priority shall be given to projects in areas damaged by the 2020–21 wildfires.

(B)Dedicated funding shall be made available for public engagement activities to solicit and incorporate feedback into the rebuilding process for park facilities damaged by wildfires.

(8)The department for grants to open-space districts to apply ecologically sensitive vegetation management practices, including ecologically sensitive grazing, that can improve long-term fire risk reduction and improve native wildlife, biodiversity, and health.

(9)The Office of Emergency Services for grants to the California Conservation Corps and certified local community conservation corps, as defined in Section 14507.5, for projects to mitigate unemployment through education and workforce training, and assist the state with the implementation of projects pursuant to this section.

(10)The Department of Fish and Wildlife for local assistance grants for reserve managers to implement adopted fire management plans for Natural Community Conservation Plans and Habitat Conservation Plans.

(11)The Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the Department of Parks and Recreation, and the state conservancies for grants to support fire prevention and restoration projects that maximize workforce training opportunities for communities with barriers to employment, including individuals from populations specified in Section 14034 of the Unemployment Insurance Code.

(12)The department for the implementation of the California Wildfire Mitigation Financial Assistance Program pursuant to Article 16.5 (commencing with Section 8654.2) of Chapter 7 of Division 1 of Title 2 of the Government Code.

(13)The Department of Conservation for grants to resource conservation districts for projects pursuant to this section.

(14)The University of California Reserve System for projects pursuant to this section.

4123.9.
 (a) For purposes of this section, the following definitions apply:
(1) “Forest restoration” means assisting the recovery of degraded forest ecosystems by reestablishing the composition, structure, pattern, and ecological processes necessary to facilitate terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems sustainability, resilience, and health under current and future conditions. Forest restoration activities shall take a broader approach than fuel reduction activities by considering the need for resilience to a wider range of stressors, such as increased temperatures, drought, and insect-induced mortality. Forest restoration activities shall also provide watershed health and wildlife habitat benefits.
(2) “Habitat-specific fire risk reduction” means fire risk reduction activities that take into account an area’s ecology, including, but not limited to, the needs of native plant and animal species and the historic fire regimes including, but not limited to, the pattern, timing, duration, and intensity in which fires have naturally occurred. Habitat-specific fire risk reduction shall reduce fire risk for communities while minimizing any negative impacts to native plants and animal species.
(3) “Type conversion” means that the dominant native plant species, such as native shrublands, are dramatically reduced or extirpated, allowing nonnative plant species to colonize and spread due to single or multiple disturbance events, including wildfire incidents.
(b) (1) On or before July 1, 2023, the Natural Resources Agency, in collaboration with the department, the State Water Resources Control Board, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and in consultation with the Office of Planning and Research, the Office of Emergency Services, the Department of Parks and Recreation, state conservancies, and other relevant state agencies, shall develop a guidance document that describes goals, approaches, opportunities, and best practices in each region of the state for ecologically appropriate, habitat-specific fire risk reduction.
(2) The guidance document shall do all of the following:
(A) Identify and define applicable regions of the state, accounting for and distinguishing habitat characteristics that are important to recognize to support habitat-specific and threat-specific, effective wildfire risk reduction activities.
(B) Describe regional strategies, activities, and techniques to support fire risk reduction and community protection and, to the extent appropriate and practical, related nonvegetation activities such as structure or infrastructure hardening.
(C) Describe future conditions that balance fire behavior, public safety, and climate resilience with habitat protection and watershed function, and that recognize different balances of those priorities with proximity to vulnerable assets, including, but not limited to, homes.
(D) Describe strategies for achieving and maintaining the desired conditions over long time horizons. For forests, this shall include addressing future economic pressure to harvest timber, while maintaining climate and fire resilient forest structure.
(E) Describe existing workforce limitations and assist state agencies in identifying and developing workforce training opportunities and career pathways in habitat restoration, infrastructure hardening, and natural resource-focused fields to address the variety of habitat needs, community protection needs, and wildfire resilience actions required across the state to address the various threats of wildfire.
(F) Recommend actions that state agencies can take to implement any fire prevention or forest health programs that account for and prioritize habitat-specific fire risk reduction and forest restoration projects that avoid type conversion.
(G) Identify projects that should be implemented in each region of the state.
(H) Recommend opportunities to use and implement the guidance document, including a description of the general scale of wildfire risk reduction needs in each region and recommendations to allocate funding to the department, state agencies, conservancies, or other entities.
(3) The guidance document shall be developed through a public process, including region-specific public workshops hosted by the Natural Resources Agency, and, upon completion, shall be made readily available on the internet website of the Natural Resources Agency.
(c) To the extent feasible, the department, state agencies, and conservancies shall incorporate the guidance described in subdivision (b) into their funding programs.
(d) The department shall collaborate or consult with state agencies, as applicable, pursuant to paragraph (1) of subdivision (b) to implement the guidance document, including, but not limited to, by doing both of the following:
(1) Establishing interagency agreements.
(2) Coordinating with regional entities to identify and implement activities and projects in regions of the state.
(e) Any funding for programs described in the guidance document approved by the state before July 1, 2022, shall not be delayed or contingent upon the development of the guidance document described in this section.

SEC. 2.

 Section 4124.5 of the Public Resources Code is amended to read:

4124.5.
 (a) The department shall establish a local assistance grant program for fire prevention activities in California. Groups eligible for grants shall include, but are not limited to, local agencies, resource conservation districts, fire safe councils, the California Conservation Corps, certified local conservation corps, University of California Cooperative Extension, Native American tribes, and qualified nonprofit organizations. The department may establish a cost-share requirement for one or more categories of projects.
(b) The local assistance grant program shall establish a robust year-round fire prevention effort in and near fire threatened communities. The department shall prioritize, to the extent feasible, projects that are multiyear efforts.
(c) Eligible activities shall include, but not be limited to, all of the following:
(1) Development and implementation of public education and outreach programs. Programs may include technical assistance, workforce recruitment and training, and equipment purchases.
(2) Fire prevention activities as defined in Section 4124.
(3) Projects to improve compliance with defensible space requirements as required by Section 4291 through increased inspections and assistance for low-income residents.
(4) Technical assistance to local agencies to improve fire prevention and reduce fire hazards.
(5) Creation of additional “Firewise USA” communities in the state or other community planning or certification programs deemed as appropriate by the department.
(6) Projects to improve public safety, including, but not limited to, access to emergency equipment and improvements to public evacuation routes.
(d) (1) The department may consider the fire risk of an area, the geographic balance of projects, and whether the project is complementary to other fire prevention or forest health activities when awarding local assistance grants.
(2) The department shall consult with a county, including a contract county described in Section 4129, before awarding a local assistance grant for a project within the county, to ensure that a county’s, including a contract county’s, local fire prevention priorities are considered and prioritized.
(e) (1) Until January 1, 2024, the The director may authorize advance payments from a grant awarded pursuant to this section. The advance shall not exceed 25 percent of the total grant award.
(2) The grantee shall expend the funds from the advance payment within six months of receipt, unless the department waives this requirement.
(3) The grantee shall file an accountability report with the department four months from the date of receiving the funds and every four months thereafter.
(f) The department may expand or amend an existing grant program to meet the requirements of this section.
(g) Funding for the local assistance grant program created pursuant to this section shall be made upon appropriation by the Legislature.